As you requested, I will write you during my trip to Japan. To prove to you that I will not neglect our correspondence, I am writing my first letter now, as I prepare for my departure next week. I hope to write you every week or two for as long as I am gone so that you may share in my adventures.
I never realized how difficult it is to pack up one’s life and move it. Of course, I’ve moved several times, both as a kid and into my dorm each year of college, but moving to another country is certainly harder. So much of my “life” seems to exist in random objects, most of which I am unable to bring, as well as in my friends whom I must leave. It will be very difficult to go so far and not have you beside me.
So far I’ve had to develop a mostly new wardrobe (due to cultural and climate differences in Kyoto), continue to secure the necessary documentation for my trip, and set my finances in order. Now, all that is left is to pack. I have a few days of packing ahead of me as well as the last of my goodbyes. I can’t say that I’m particularly looking forward to these last few days, but I wouldn’t skip them for the world. When I get back, much will be different. My sister will be moving into her dorm room for her freshman year of college while many of my friends from school will have graduated. I hate goodbyes. But that is why I’m writing letters to you and my other friends—so that I don’t really have to say goodbye.
I pray you’ll be safe while I’m gone. I miss you terribly, but this is the adventure of a lifetime. I’ll see you when I return. Please write.
Three weeks left. It’s a crazy thought. How did it become the end of the semester so soon? I’m three weeks away from being half-way done with my college career. Where did it go? And even scarier—it’ll be over a year until I next sit here on the OU campus. When I move out of my dorm room and make the drive home, I won’t be coming back until my senior year. Thinking of how much can change in a year or a month or even a single day, what will life be like when I return? Will I know my friends still? Will they still know me? This year has been a roller-coaster of growth and laughter and pain. I don’t know if I could have gotten through it alone. Now I prepare myself to bid these wonderful friends goodbye and embark on my first journey alone.
I’ve spent summers productively in the past. Last summer for instance I traveled to China and took a variety of classes both home and abroad. This year I could take classes once again, but I’d rather find an internship. I’ve been searching since winter, and I haven’t had much luck. However, I have a couple leads left, so there is still hope for me. I want to grow. I can be productive and get classes out of the way, but I won’t grow by testing out of classes again. I really need this opportunity to put myself in a new situation. Then again, when the summer ends I’ll be plunged headfirst into a new world, so perhaps a summer of comfort isn’t such a bad idea.
For those who don’t know, I’m studying in Japan this upcoming year. I’ll be at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto. It’s incredibly exciting, but also quite scary. I’ve never been to Japan. I’m not fluent in the language. This upcoming year will likely be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. However, despite all that, it may also be one of the best times of my life. I’ve been waiting for this forever. I’ve spent almost two years now studying Japanese diligently to prepare. And now it’s time to see the results. Now it’s time to fly. The paperwork is turned in. I’ve looked through the class list and attended the pre-departure orientations. Now, I have to wait. Wait and watch the skies. The future awaits.
Some weeks pass by without me even really noticing. Other weeks seem so long and so real that I can barely believe they’re all the same length. Last week was definitely one of the latter. It wasn’t particularly hard and, though not great, I’ve had worse. Regardless, it ended up being a great week for appreciating my friends. One of my friends could tell I was having a bad week and wrote me a letter to try to make me feel better. Other friends were there to talk or just sit with me whenever I wanted their company. I also had the opportunity to hang out with a lot of friends I hadn’t spent enough time with. In that way, it ended up being a great week.
One particular high point was getting to hang out with the other Global Engagement Fellows. The Global Engagement Fellowship, in case you don’t remember, is made up of a select group of students from a variety of majors who value foreign languages, study abroad, and global cooperation. We come from lots of different backgrounds and have lots of different interests, but we have enough in common that I always enjoy talking to the other Fellows. This week we had an open mic night where we all told stories from time we’d spent abroad. It was so fun to hear about even more places abroad that I haven’t been. I was able to tell some of my stories from China, while others told stories from several other countries across the world. In those two hours, I was able to travel all over the world. Stories do that. They allow us to travel through other people’s memories. I’m grateful to have had that opportunity. I got to see Morocco, Italy, Mozambique, and other places I never really thought I’d go. And the languages. Each of us is studying a language of our choice, but we all love languages. So, everyone had to go ahead and speak in the language they were studying so the rest of us could hear that language. It was an incredible evening.
I’m blessed beyond belief by the number of awesome friends I have. I sometimes take them for granted, but I don’t want to. I never want to forget, even for a moment, how incredible the people I’m surrounded by are. Whoever you are, I hope you don’t forget that you’re loved either. Sometimes it can be easy to forget that people care. But someone does care. Someone always cares. Even if you can’t feel it and can’t see it, know that someone cares very deeply about you and would cry for you if they knew you were hurting. Have courage, no matter how bad the week or the month or the year. Eventually the sun will rise. That doesn’t mean the bad things will stop, but the sunlight reveals all things equally. Then you won’t be forced to see only the pain. You’ll see all the bright wonderful things as well. Trust me, last week even the moon wouldn’t show its face, but the sky is beginning to clear and the sun is rising. Just try to hold on until dawn breaks in your life.
I can’t believe it’s been a over a month since I returned from China. It doesn’t feel that long. At the same time, my summer is almost up–25% of my time in college has disappeared, running like sand from an hourglass. It can’t have gone by that fast, can it? My time as a teenager is almost up. My time in college will quickly follow. Life passes so fast that it’s really a wonder anyone can ever manage to be bored. And yet, I’m guilty of it too. I’ve wasted time being bored before. It’s folly. Every second, every grain of sand, is precious. I’m starting to understand that.
Despite my worries that I’ve wasted my time, this past year has really been incredibly productive. If you’ve been following my journeys, you know about China and the Enactus National Expo. You’ve traveled through memory palaces of Cordoba and seen the flying silks of Bangladesh Night 2015. Whether you can tell or not, I’m not the same person who began this blog almost a year ago. That girl was, at once, both supremely overconfident and extraordinarily insecure. She worried so much about what people thought of her. She didn’t know what she wanted to be or how hard she could work for something she loved. I’m not saying I’ve finished the journey to become the best me, but I have taken a few steps forward. I’ve traveled far enough, at least, that I can see a difference in who I am versus who I was.
The last thing I should mention in this moment of quiet reflection is my friends. I have significantly more amazing friends than I usually recognize. I just found out one of my good friends from high school is going to Yale. How awesome is that? It’s not all about getting into fancy schools though. One of my friends is studying Chinese in Shanghai, the beautiful city I left just a month and a half ago. I also have friends from college who graduated at the end of the school year. They’re moving on. Some are going to grad school (one is even going to William and Mary!) while others are finding jobs. Such is life. When this stage in my life ends and my hourglass if flipped, I don’t know where I’ll go. I suppose the mystery is half the fun. I also don’t know who will be beside me. Even if my next stage in life is one I must walk alone, I know that the friendships I’ve built are real. Even if we lose contact, those people helped make me into who I am today. For that, I am grateful. I wish the very best for all of my friends who are beginning a new stage in their journeys. I wish the same for you, whoever you are, and wherever you’re going. You’ve followed me thus far, and so I count you a friend. I hope you’ll join me as I begin my Sophomore year. I wonder where I’ll go and who I’ll meet. In a month it will begin. I’ll be back on the road. I’m not worried though; I’ve always felt most at home on the road and at the little inn that awaits me in Norman.
I’m in China. Every time I say those words, I feel this little leap of joy. I can’t believe I’m here, to be honest. I’ve wanted to take a trip like this for my entire life. To see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, giant pandas, and so much more is incredible. I’m here. I made it.
The trip began, of course, with the flight. Up until now, I have had very little experience flying. The longest plane ride I’d ever been on before yesterday was four hours. This one was fourteen. That’s a long time to be on a plane. It was so worth it though. Since I’ve been here, I’ve done very little. I’ve eaten a meal and taken a bus through downtown Beijing, but that’s really all. However, today will give me all sorts of things to talk about. We’re going to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City today. Day 1 in China. Not a bad looking schedule at all. Hopefully the 5-6 hours of sleep I got last night will be enough to carry me through it.
It was really hard for me to leave my inn and my friends and my seat by the fire to come to a new country. I was excited, but also sad at the thought of saying my good-byes. However, I will only be here for a couple weeks. I can do that. Plus, since I’ve arrived, I’ve realized that this is a once in a lifetime experience. My friends and my fireside seat will be waiting for me when I return. Until then, I’m flying. That way I’ll have some great new stories to tell when I come back to my seat. Stories of this, my first flight.
I sit here in this place that has become my home and think. I’ve become so accustomed to this inn and these friends and the laughter and stories that we’ve shared. A lot has changed over the months here though. Many friendships have grown, though some have faded. Some paths have converged, while others have split, leading us apart. I’ve met some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and also lost contact with some of my friends from childhood.
It’s not just the group that has the changed though—I have changed. I have been assured by my friends that I’m very different than the girl who came to college last semester. The months have worked their magic and aged me. I have become more relaxed, more open to others, and more cautious with my words. I have learned more than I could have dreamed. Topics I once knew nothing about, I can now hold an intelligent conversation concerning. This semester I was involved in another political discussion group, again joining with other students to watch the weather of the world. After the first few weeks, I noticed that my fellow group members, knowing my field of interest and study, would ask me about economic issues in Asia. At first, I really didn’t think I was qualified to give any sort of response. However, I began to see a change in my answers as they became tolerably informed. I am by no means an expert, but I know enough now to analyze and think critically and give informed opinions.
The opportunities I’ve had this year have been innumerable. I’ve gotten to sit down and talk to academics and business executives. I’ve traveled to new parts of my country, while preparing for my first flight abroad. I’ve made friends from throughout the world, even from my own corner of it. As much as I’m excited to fly next week and start my journey abroad, I’m a bit sad at the thought of leaving this inn and this fireplace. However, I know I will return. And when I do, I will be a bit older and a bit wiser than I am now. Such is life. Even returning to the same place, I’m not really the same person who left. But I don’t believe that’s a bad thing.
It never occurred to me that during my time here in this resting place, this inn, I’d have to watch my friends take their own flights without me. However, the reality of the impermanence of this stage of life is starting to really hit me. Next semester most of my friends will have found their own homes and will no longer share this inn with me. The seats next to the fireplace where we are wont to congregate will be left empty. I will sit alone and see new faces come through while my family that I have found here has left me. In a mere week my family will leave without me on the first of their flights. However, I too will fly, though not so far. Nay, it is the future I can see on the horizon that saddens me.
This time next year one of my best friends will have flown across oceans to land on the other side of the world from me. A semester does not seem that long in the grand scheme of things, but upon his return my own journey will begin. Next winter we will bid each other farewell for a year and a half. That thought is lonelier than I thought possible. And yet, when I return it will only be a year before we graduate and leave this place of refuge, of nearness. Those eighteen months of separation that are daily drawing closer will very likely foreshadow a longer estrangement, perhaps even a lifelong one. How can you truly reconcile yourself to the idea that you may never again see one of your closest friends? I don’t know, but I will have to find out. Eventually I will have to say goodbye to all these people. It’s easier when I’m the one flying away, but in many cases I won’t have that option—they will leave me and take their own journeys. All I can wish for them is fair winds and good roads, fair thoughts and good friends.
Recently I’ve learned something about journeys: even if you intend to occasionally return home, the place from which you departed eventually ceases to really be “home.” Over the Christmas holidays I went back to Sugar Land for almost a month. I said I was going home, and I really believed it at the time. However, “home” is not a static place. In fact, I’m not certain it’s a place at all. Home is wherever you have become used to spending your time. It’s the place where you come together with those you care about and wish to spend time with. The house I grew up in is still special to me, but it isn’t really home. College—this crossroads, this inn—has become my home. I remember being told that this change would occur. I suppose I believed it, but I didn’t really understand it.
The joy of returning home at the end of the break was greater than I expected. However, it was also accompanied by a sort of melancholy premonition: the time I spend here is ticking away rapidly. We will all have to say goodbye and, once again, we will leave home. There is solace though. We lost our attachment to our first home without even noticing it, so why do we assume the next transition will be harder? Every goodbye is hard, but every goodbye passes. I will leave this home too, and I will be grateful for the time that was, not bitter that it couldn’t last. Good things aren’t static; they change. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just something to be remembered so that I don’t lose the moment I have. Tomorrow will come, and I will return to the journey. Perhaps I will return to this home to visit, just as I returned to the home of my childhood, but perhaps I won’t pass this way again. Well, either way, I will follow the road.
“The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
In every life there comes a point when you must, for the first time, say goodbye to a friend of your own age. For some people, this goodbye comes in the early years of their lives; for others, it does not come until the ripe years of life are behind them, and goodbyes are expected. For me, such a time came yesterday. A wonderful girl and dear friend has come to the end of her journey. We had such plans for her; her wings were newly spread. And yet, she has found her rest. I mourn that her journey was cut short, but I know she is happy. Her journey ended, like mine someday will, when a call was sounded and her final flight was taken. She is home with her Lord, singing, just as she always loved to. I will see her again when my journey too has ended. In the meantime, I hold on to this reminder that my journey may end at any moment, with or without warning. It is a frightening thought, but not one that should be pushed aside. I must live every day appreciating the journeys I have taken and the friends who walk alongside me. I heard someone say one time that, at the end of every day, we ought to say, “Today I have given all that I had; what I have kept I have lost.” I don’t know who said it first, but I know it to be true. I have twenty-four hours today, just like I had yesterday. If they are cut short tomorrow, I want to rest easy knowing I put them to good use today.